Skip to main content
article icon

Diary

magazine article | Published in TES Newspaper on 19 May, 1995 | By: Carborundum

Dark secrets are emerging about the past of Peter Downes, president of the Secondary Heads Association and a man who hitherto has appeared to lead an entirely blameless life. His vice? Using his squidger to viciously squop his opponents.

Perhaps we should explain. It has come to light that, while a student at Cambridge back in the 1950s, Mr Downes was a leading light in the university's victorious Tiddlywinks team. Did we say victorious? So accurate was this lot's squopping that they awarded themselves quarter-Blues on the strength of their performance.

In the innocent world of the 1950s, these champions were accorded some status and publicity - although it is not recorded whether John Major followed the team's progress with any great interest from his Brixton hideaway. And thus it came to pass that the undergraduate upstarts challenged Prince Philip to a match after he made some rude remarks about this new sporting craze. He declined, but put forward The Goons in his place for a match in aid of his favourite charity - ironically, enough the National Playing-Fields Association. And so it came to pass that in 1958 Spike Milligan, Harry Secombe, Michael Bentine and Peter Sellers were smuggled past the crowds and through a secret passage into the Cambridge Guildhall for the match of the decade.

"It was widely covered on television and radio, with live commentary from Brian Johnston. And we were on Sportsnight," recalls Mr Downes cheerfully.

"The Goons played in nighties over their clothes, and they kept doing the voices like Bluebottle. Harry Secombe sang an anthem specially written for the occasion. The tickets were sold out weeks in advance and forgeries were in circulation. The media interest was astonishing." Such was the nature of stardom in those days, however, that the comedians' method of transport (they had busy lives) was a Fisons' Pest Control helicopter. Mr Downes took retirement at the ancient age of 23, but still takes a keen interest in the game, which he describes as "very complicated". Which may explain his interest in the arcane world of local authority and school finance.

"It's not just a question of getting the wink in the cup with your squidger, you also have squopping [putting an opponent's wink out of action]. You need the dexterity of a snooker player, and the brain of a chess player, which makes it a good all-round game in which strategy is very important," he explains.

So exactly what is a player called? Mr Downes adds, hurriedly: "We say tiddlywinker rather than winker. It's less open to misunderstanding."

Still, is it better to be a Winker or a Winkler? Derek Norcross, the chairman of the education committee in East Sussex, is a member of the Hastings-based charity organisation, the Winkle Club. Members must carry a shell at all time, and must show the same on the challenge "Up Winkle". Apparently the late great Sir Winston Churchill was also a member, but Carborundum doubts whether anyone dared ask to see his winkle.

As the country's children sit their national tests this week, parents and schools up and down the country are no doubt referring to said papers as SATs - just like the American Scholastic Aptitude Tests. Unusually among acronyms, this trips off the tongue and is descriptive and easy to remember. So easy that the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority has been forbidden from using it.

Apparently, the frighteners were put on in the form of a stern lawyer's letter from the firm in Princeton which has trademarked both the test and the name. Only by extreme grovelling was it agreed that no action would be taken over the historic use of the acronym, but SCAA had to promise - practically in blood - that it would never be uttered again. And now we've done it. Oops.

Not content with inflicting national tests upon us, SCAA seems determined to foist new Americanese jargon on a wary world. To coin a confusing metaphor, Carborundum hopes that by giving the latest the oxygen of publicity we might somehow suffocate it at birth.

Appropriately enough in this week of SATs - oops, national tests - the new word is levelness, and appears to have been coined deep in the Notting Hill Gate bowels of SCAA - the same august body charged with removing the linguistic excrescences of the nation's youth.

We consulted an insider to find out what it means. Muttering about bureaucracy, he sighs: "Well, it's nothing to do with levellers. It's a shorthand way of describing the concept that teachers will look at the child in front of them, and its work, and in a flourish of inspiration would intuitively and immediately see the levelness which was being presented. It's looking across the whole range of a child's performance. It's a noun. It's a quiddity. It's an expression of quality."

Any course whose title concludes in the word "studies" is suspect as far as Carborundum is concerned, so we're delighted to come across this succinct definition of management studies, provided by George Bain of the London Business School: "Casting false pearls before real swine."

With Gillian Shephard's long-promised assault on estuarine English still apparently waiting to be unleashed on a breathless world, the Diary thoroughly enjoyed the following remark as two University College London finals students emerged, exhausted, from an examination: "Gawd, did you see all them bleedin' questions on Proust? I never done him."


Subscribe to the magazine

as yet unrated

Add your comment

Subscribe to the magazine
Join TES for free now

Join TES for free now

Four great reasons to join today...

1. Be part of the largest network of teachers in the world – over 2m members
2. Download over 600,000 free teaching resources
3. Get a personalized email of the most relevant resources for you delivered to your inbox.
4. Find out first about the latest jobs in education